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Special Spotlight: The Alabama Project Celebrates Survivors and Their Communities

, by Suzanne Byan Parker and Cynthia Ryan, UAB

Breast cancer survivor Whitni Collins provides comfort to Raquel Smith following her double mastectomy. Photo credit: David Jay

In recognition of cancer survivors and their families, CRCHD celebrates cancer survivorship this month. In this spotlight article, we focus in on The Alabama Project and its visual storytelling of the powerful impact of community in survivorship.

The Alabama Project is a poignant photo essay that celebrates the strength and spirit of a group of young women from Alabama with breast cancer and the barriers they faced. The photographic glimpses into their private lives tell an enduring story of cancer survivorship, and call attention to the critical role their community - the people and places they call home – can have in supporting them and survivorship.  What is remarkable about these women is that they transformed their disease into an opportunity for community-building and empowering themselves and other cancer survivors.

Told from the perspective of photographer David Jay, a number of the women were recruited by local Community Health Advisors trained as Research Partners (or CHARPS). CHARPS are a dedicated group of men and women trained to educate and close gaps in health care access among communities with high cancer mortality disparities about cancer. Located at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center, the CHARPS program is part of the NCI/CRCHD’s supported Deep South Network, one of 23 NCI/CRCHD Community Networks Program Centers (CNPC) projects. 

Contact with The Alabama Project and the CHARP program inspired a few of the women to become CHARPS themselves, and to engage with their communities to share their cancer experiences. For example, one participant organized a cancer survivors’ luncheon in Hale County to provide a supportive environment for sharing information and experiences among 20 cancer survivors.

Cynthia Ryan who knows The Alabama Project cancer survivors well and has been documenting the project from the beginning, noted, “One of the powerful results of the project is that it brings to focus one barrier that all the women faced – a need for access to life-saving health services. This is at the crux of what makes cancer health disparities an important issue in our society.”

Engagement in The Alabama Project and the CHARP initiative is one way that some of these women were able to build and expand upon their experiences to reach an even broader group of women with cancer and cancer survivors.

Since its creation in 2012, the Alabama Project has exhibited at national scientific meetings, including the recent AACR Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, to raise awareness and knowledge about cancer, cancer survivorship and the power of community engagement. The Project is now on permanent display at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center in Birmingham, Alabama. NCI-supported disparities research programs, such as the NCI Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (PACHE), have also purchased copies of the booklet to further disseminate this resource among breast cancer survivors. As a print and online resource, it is an anchor of inspiration for cancer survivors, and truly a product of the community. You can visit David Jay’s website to view all of the photos in the Alabama Project photo series.


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